Feel the Burn? Your Pharmacist Can Help!
Jan 24, 2011
By Barret Procyshyn, Pharmacist at the Dauphin Clinic Pharmacy
The pharmacists at the Dauphin Clinic Pharmacy are always available to assist our patients with over the counter medications, which are medications that can be purchased without a prescription. One of the most common requests is advice on something to treat a burning stomach, heartburn or indigestion. Dyspepsia is the correct term to use for abdominal pain or discomfort. Dyspepsia can include heartburn, acid reflux, excessive burping, bloating and even nausea.
The most common cause of dyspepsia is a long complicated name called gastroesophageal reflux disease. Thank goodness we simplify this term into GERD. Over 17% of Canadians report having heartburn within a three month period and 13% report significant symptoms weekly. GERD can have various impacts, from being and occasional issue to a serious health problem.
Our stomachs have a one way valve, which allows food and drink into the stomach, but keeps the stomachs contents from spilling back up into the esophagus. In GERD, the stomach valve relaxes and allows the acidy stomach contents back into the esophagus, which leads to the burning and discomfort. This event is termed reflux and if reflux is allowed to continue over a long period of time erosion can occur in the esophagus leading to possible ulcers.
The good news is mild GERD symptoms can be managed with medications that do not require a prescription. I do advise you to get some advice from your pharmacist before making a purchase. We can also offer you some ways to prevent or minimize GERD as well.
GERD sufferers will notice improvement with a few, but important lifestyle modifications. You should avoid foods which irritate your symptoms, such as citrus juice, coffee and tomato products. You should avoid carbonated beverages and try to reduce alcohol intake. If one of my patients notices their symptoms are worse at night I recommend not eating within 2-3 hours of bedtime and raising the head of the bed by about 6 inches.
Antacids are one treatment option which can help with mild symptoms. They work by reacting with stomach acid and neutralizing it. These medications are usually well tolerated and are inexpensive. Antacids do interact with other medications so make sure you ask your pharmacist if they are ok to take with your other medications. These medications can be used after you eat a meal, which causes burning or discomfort. Probably the most common antacids is Tums, although it is not the most potent and usually not the most effective. An example of a product containing multiple antacids is Dioval Plus.
Some products contain sodium alginate, such as Gaviscon. It works by forming a layer on top of the gastric contents. This layer protects the espohagus from exposure to the stomach contents.
The most effective medication available without a prescription are H2 receptor antagonists. You may have not heard this name, but medications in this class include famotidine and Ranitidine or Zantac. These medications work by stopping the stomach cells from secreting as much gastric acid or stomach acid. While these medications are well tolerated, we do develop a tolerance to them. They are also not effective in reducing stomach acid after a meal, so you need to take it before that bowl of chilli. I always recommend trying our Encounter brand of ranitidine first. It usually works very well and is the least expensive.
Once again, treatment without a prescription should still involve a pharmacist. We are always available to help you in the over the counter section. If we think your GERD symptoms require prescription treatment, we will refer you to a physician. If the symptoms are mild we will help you select the product which is best for you, so you do not have to feel the burn.
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The information in this article is intended as a helpful guide only. It is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional advice. If you have any questions about your medications and what is right for you see your doctor, pharmacist or other health care professional.